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Picking Citrus and Presidents in Florida

Will Sunshine State voters select the GOP nominee?

By Dan Balz
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg remarked a few weeks ago, "Iowa picks corn. New Hampshire picks presidents." That may be the view from the Granite State, but others in his party know better.

For years, the key contest in determining the Republican nomination battle has come here in South Carolina, not in snowy New Hampshire. But that may not be the case any longer this year. Florida, not South Carolina, may be the most important contest this year.

South Carolina established its influence through a series of important primaries over the past quarter century. In that time, as the South increasingly became the party's most important region, the importance of South Carolina's primary has grown.

George W. Bush effectively stopped John McCain's dreams of winning the nomination here in 2000 after one of the toughest and nastiest campaigns anyone had seen. In 1996, Bob Dole rebounded after losing New Hampshire to Pat Buchanan with a victory in South Carolina that set him on an unstoppable path to the nomination.

In 1988, Bush's father defeated Dole in South Carolina after the two had split Iowa and New Hampshire. Ronald Reagan's victory over John Connally here in 1980 snuffed out any hopes for the big-money Texan and kept Reagan moving toward victory.

Those past nomination battles continued after South Carolina, sometimes long after, but in it was clear by the end that the outcome here proved decisive in settling the competition. That's why Saturday's GOP primary here long has been seen as a potentially pivotal date on the 2008 political calendar.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it at a rally for McCain here Thursday noon, "South Carolina stands in a special place in the primary field and it always has."

South Carolina Republicans have jealously guarded their position in the calendar. The Saturday primary was established earlier as the tone-setter for other southern contests at a time when Super Tuesday was largely a southern competition.

Katon Dawson, the current South Carolina Republican chairman, cited that tradition last August when he moved this year's primary to Jan. 19 as a way to protect against poaching by Floridians of both parties who had decided to advance the date of their primary.

As early as 2006, McCain began building bridges to the party establishment here, convinced that if he could overcome their opposition and win the primary this time, his hopes for the nomination would be secured.

Mitt Romney, around that same time, began to organize and invest here, believing the same. He would later learn that, of all the early states, South Carolina would prove most resistant to a candidate who happened to be a Mormon.

Rudy Giuliani tested the waters extensively here, convinced that his leadership credentials and his hawkishness on terrorism would find a receptive home in a state with a rich military heritage.

Fred Thompson saw South Carolina as part of his southern base and perhaps the first state where he could demonstrate his vote-getting appeal. Mike Huckabee believed the same thing.

But the Republican race has turned out to be far different than anyone imagined. In what is turning out to be the year that proves the exception to the rule, South Carolina may be surrendering its position as the decisive date on the GOP calendar.

Strategists in many of the Republican campaigns long believed that Florida's Jan. 29 primary would be the battle that truly established the pecking order in the nomination battle. They are even more convinced of that now, after three different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

A McCain victory here on Saturday might result in South Carolina being seen eventually as king-maker in the Republican race -- but only if a victory provides him the momentum to go to win Florida, and momentum has proved to be a hard commodity to capture in the primaries this year.

A victory by Romney might do the same -- but he has effectively conceded first place in the state and has flown off to Nevada, where he hopes to win Saturday's presidential caucuses.

A victory for Huckabee or Thompson would need ratification elsewhere. And Giuliani long ago realized his one hope to make good on his late-state strategy was to win Florida. He is not a factor in South Carolina this week -- as he was not a factor in Iowa or New Hampshire or Michigan.

So everyone is pointing to Florida. Giuliani has been camped out there, his first and last-stand state. Romney plan to head to Florida immediately after leaving Nevada this weekend and has dumped money into television there this week. If there is any bounce from his Michigan victory, Romney now hopes it will propel him into Florida.

McCain's team likewise knows that he cannot pop any champagne corks just by winning here on Saturday. After what he went through in 2000, victory here would be especially sweet, but no cause for coasting.

After Saturday's South Carolina primary, there will be a break of 10 days until Florida's contest, and that will mean the longest and most fully-engaged event on the Republican calendar so far this year. South Carolina's political tradition has drawn the attention it deserves this week. But its primary may ultimately be just the gateway to an even more consequential battle on Jan. 29 in the Sunshine State.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 17, 2008; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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Posted by: Janni | April 28, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Rowina | April 23, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Romney's wins in NEVADA, WYOMING, and MICHIGAN make him a top contender for the Republican nomination. Here are a few of the reasons why Romney is our best bet: 1. He has the greatest economic expertise and has experience creating and holding jobs. He has real experience dealing in today's global marketplace. Without a strong economy, nothing else works and Romney has most skill and experience in the real world of business.
2. Romney has a history of ASKING the right questions, LISTENING openly, EVALUATING & ANALYZING carefully and LEADING to effective solutions. He brings new vision, efficiency, and energy to every endeavor
3. Romney has impeccable integrity and high standards. He is absolutely trustworthy
4. Romney stands firmly in support of our constitution. He supports state rights and individual rights.
5. Romney has always been an advocate of education and is committed to innovation in technology. He supports research and development. He is an exceedingly intelligent man!
6. Romney is committed to a strong national defense. He will protect our borders and keep our nation safe.
7. Romney is a self-made man who owes no one favors. He will bring fresh voices to the table. Romney can make real change in Washington.
8. Romney is an excellent strategist and can WIN against the democrats!

Posted by: ALMANOJODO | January 19, 2008 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I laugh hard and harder every day as the nomination process continues as "the people in the know" say that Huckabee has no chance.

I am sure they will continue saying that until the very moment is declared the President of The United States.

The Republican Party, my Party continue their unrelenting and ferocious attacks on him with no results except to make millions of people like me more and more convinced that my Party must be changed because it is really a destructive anachronism as it is presently running.

Of course my Party will fail to derail Huckabee because his strength is us the people that are sick and tired of manipulation for the benefit of the super rich in detriment of the nation,

He will become our president because he will get the support of many Democrats and blacks who are also sick and tired of manipulation in their own Party.

The desperation of The power elites is such that they are even contemplating bringing the billionaire fellow in New York to spend 500 million dollars to buy the election if every thing else fails.

I pity them because after they fail they will be considered a "shameful bunch".

They are to be pitied

Posted by: pdelga03 | January 19, 2008 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Mitt's message and family values should resonate well with the people of Florida.

Not so sure about McCain.

Giuliani has some extra sweat equity in Florida, but at the expense of much of the momentum that could have carried him to victory there.

Huckabee is a long shot for Florida, and
Fred may well be out of it after a likely fourth place finish in hard fought South Carolina, though I am saddened at the thought. Fred has turned out to be the second best "solutions" candidate after Romney, in my opinion. I trust Fred's honesty over McCain's straight talk by miles. Why doesn't McCain use his straight talk to expose his own moderacy/and record of common liberal compromising? (Immigration comes quickly to mind. He will tear the party apart.)

Anyway, Romney ftw in Florida! (mesmert has it exactly right.)

Posted by: Jed_Merrill | January 18, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps a win in Florida will convince the Media that Gov. Romney IS the Republican front-runner, and will ultimately be the party's candidate!
Gov. Romney has already won WY and MI while placing second in IA and NH. He has the most DELEGATES as well as the most VOTES of any of the Republican candidates. He is likely to win NV on saturday which has 10 more delegates (34 compared to 24) than SC! The most recent poll has Romney in a "statistical dead heat" with "America's Mayor" in FL. Just imagine the kind of a boost another clear first place finish will give him (this time in NV) in the polls!
Ultimately, Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate with the best message who is the most electable, conservative, and well-funded. The Republican Party NEEDS Mitt Romney in order to win the White House!

Posted by: mesmert | January 17, 2008 11:56 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: SkitheRockies | January 17, 2008 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Alright, Dan, fact check yourself. Both parties did not choose to move up the Florida primary. The overwhelmingly Republican controlled legislature and Republican governor tacked on the early primary date in a voters' rights bill, and the FL Dems had no political choice but to vote for it.

As a result, the Dems, with the South Carolina pols pulling some type of sand-lot sucker punch, convinced the party to "punish" Florida's Democratic voters for something they had absolutley no control over. In the end, South Carolina will be irrelevant, and Florida will prove, once again, to be a bellweather state for both parties in both the primary and general elections.

Posted by: pbcjustice | January 17, 2008 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Rudy will save America and protect us from the extrimist. Go Rudy go and win Florida and super tuesday!

Posted by: irizarryrafael | January 17, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

McCain's God,s Children Argument!
Then there is they are all God,s children argument(Another McCain favor) well isn't everyone God,s children? If so then guess McCain is saying everyone and anyone has the right to Invade this Nation, waving their flags, demand their rights, while feasting at the trough of public welfare and Kill, Rape and Rob thousands of American citizens each year!

McCain's Lettuce Argument!
There's the "lettuce" argument -- we'll be paying $50/head (or starving)( McCain really likes this argument) if we don't have illegal aliens working in the fields. As Phil Martin, ag economist at UC Davis shows, the field labor cost in a $1 head of lettuce is about 6 cents. Triple those wages and Americans will do the jobs. (They're not career positions. They're seasonal jobs for young people, starting in the world of work. I have did similarly menial jobs.) And you'll be paying 10% more for lettuce and other produce. Do you spend $1,000/year on produce? OK, you'll pay $100 more.

The lettuce argument also parallels that for the retention of slavery.

Immigrant Argument!
There's the "everyone's an immigrant except for the 'Native Americans'" argument. Well, the American Indians didn't sprout from the land, they came across the Bering land bridge from Asia. So if the criterion is "You're an immigrant if you had an ancestor who immigrated here," then American Indians are immigrants, too.

In that case, "immigrant" is no longer a useful word, since Everyone's an immigrant.

Stole Southwest Argument!
There's the "the U.S. stole the southwest" argument. Well, the land in dispute was "owned" by Spain for a couple of centuries. Then by Mexico for about 25 years. During these periods, there weren't more than a few thousand Spaniards or Mexicans in the entire territory. It's been owned by the U.S. for about 160 years now, much longer than Mexico's reign. And the U.S. has actually done something with the land, made it habitable for tens of millions. As Robert Kaplan has described, the difference between American and Mexican "twin cities" straddling the border is like night and day, yet the land is obviously the same. It's not the dirt that's important, it's the people. Put another way, if culture didn't matter, Mexico and Central America would be paradise.

Illegal pay taxes Argument!

There's the "illegal aliens pay tons of taxes" argument. Sure, they all pay real estate taxes (in rent) and sales taxes (most states). Those working on the books (typically using stolen Social Security numbers) pay FICA and, perhaps, income taxes. But they're mostly ill-educated and low-skilled and pay very low taxes connected to their working -- in fact, most claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, i.e. negative income tax! If a family with both parents working has two kids in school, that's at least $15k/year just for schooling, way more than the taxes on, say, $35k/year aggregate income.

Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has done the systematic accounting on all this. A typical household headed by a low-skilled illegal alien is a net drain of about $20k/year for the rest of us, year after year. (Low-skilled Americans are a similar burden, but they're part of the national family, not gate crashers from other societies.)

Illegal Bad..Amnesty good Argument!

There's the "illegal immigration is bad, but make them citizens and problem solved" argument. Nope. If that were the case, legalizing (i.e. amnestying) the illegal aliens would solve the problem. But they'd still be (on average) low-skilled workers whose burden on the rest of us would continue. In fact, once legal they'd be able to access more public benefits programs, so their cost to the rest of us would actually rise substantially. In short, most of the problems of mass illegal immigration are shared by mass amnestying them.

Finally, I offer my distilled observations of what mass immigration is doing to our country based on living in southern California

The flood of immigrants drives wages and living conditions in our central cities toward those of the Third World.

- The influx imposes both sprawl and gridlock on our metropolitan areas.

- Immigrant families needing services overwhelm our schools, taxpayer-funded health care facilities, and other public agencies.

- Those requiring services don't assimilate and, instead, expect to be served in their native languages.

- American civic culture frays as each ethnic group establishes its own grievance lobby and pushes for preferences.

- Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis (new, drug-resistant strains) return.

- Shortages of water and other resources loom, especially in immigration-blitzed Southwest.
Most that come across our open borders come from countries where, Crime, Corruption, Poverty, Misery, Anti-education, and hate for Americans has existed for centuries and is normal. Should anyone be surprised they bring those same family values across the border with them?

Posted by: american1 | January 17, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh, no! Another tsunami of TV ads and robo-calls! What did we do to deserve this?

Posted by: Garak | January 17, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

S.C. may not be a decisive vote for the Republicans, but it may have a side effect from the Democratic side. We (me, my wife and three children) are all democrats. I casted my first presidential vote in 1976 and have been voting for democratic candidates since. I am also a strong civil rights supporter and do not believe in racial discrimination. However, I may cross party line to vote for a Republican candidate in November as a protest vote if the African American in S.C. vote along racial line for Obama.

This was the conversation last night between a father and his three children:

Son A:"Father, the African Americans say we (Black, Latino, White and others) must not look at people's colors in America. But they think that they have the rights to do so. Why is it?"

Father:"Well, they may have a reason, but I don't know what it is."

Daughter: "It is so unfair. They say one thing and do the other."

Son B:"We could do the same thing."

Father:"Two wrongs do not make one right. We should do what we believe is right."

Son B:"This will be my first vote. I hope the blacks will vote their hearts and not their race."

Son A:"This is also my first vote. I hope the election is going to be a fair one and we can all live with it."

Son B:"If they vote their race, I'll do the same as well; just to be fair."

Son A:"My friends said that his candidacy was conspired by a few whites who openly support him to create a chance for the blacks to show their racial behavior and give the other people (whites, latino, asian..) an excuse to cast their votes for a white republican candidate."

Father:"I do not think so."

Son A:"Can you be sure?"

Father:"No I can't."

Daughter:"I am afraid the civil rights movemnet is going to be pushed back for years if not decades by Obama's candidacy."

Father:"I hope not."

Daughter:"Me too."

Posted by: signaturepieces | January 17, 2008 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm... If Florida is going to be the next bellweather state, I guess we'll do it without Delegates to the convention. On the GOP side, the National Party has halved the slate because the state primary will be on Jan 29.

The Dems are not seating any Florida delegates. State Dem leaders are saying that the convention 'has' to seat a full Florida delegation. But if it is going to be a contested contest at that point, it's all up in the air.

Posted by: WiltonManorsSteve | January 17, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

And look how good a job Florida did in electing our current president. What a whacked out state.

Posted by: mortified469 | January 17, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Rudy's economic policies will take an economy that is already in peril and drive it into the ground by greatly expanding our already out of control national deficit and doing little to ease the burden on the lower and middle classes while providing even more breaks for the rich than Bush. I'm a liberal but I'd take any other republican candidate over him. Even Huckabee.

Posted by: oysterman84 | January 17, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Go Rudy Go!

Posted by: eschweibenz | January 17, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

God bless Rudy Giuliani when he wins in Florida this 29th. He will be known as the creator of the new strategy! The Giuliani way! Go Rudy 2008

Posted by: irizarryrafael | January 17, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

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